A drone tried to deliver phones to prisoners in jail. What if it had been weapons?

A drone like this one was carrying consumer electronics to prisoners.
A drone like this one was carrying consumer electronics to prisoners.
Image: Reuters/Mariana Bazo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Remotely controlled commercial drones are the new frontier for retailers such as Amazon in delivery of consumer goods, but could they also prove useful for criminals delivering drugs, or worse? In Greece, a small quad copter drone sailed over a prison’s high barbed wire fence on Aug. 15 to make a delivery to prisoners inside. The drone was only carrying consumer electronic devices, but it easily could have transported something far more volatile.

Last week’s incident happened in Larissa, a small city 220 miles north of Athens, where the small unmanned aerial vehicle flew over the fence and was only spotted by guards when it landed on prison grounds, according to the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini. The guards called in bomb disposal experts to examine the small package attached to the UAV, which was being remotely controlled by a still at-large suspect. Only when they approached the package did they realize it was non-lethal, containing five mobile phones, six SIM cards and two sets of earphones.

Similar criminal incidents involving drones have occurred elsewhere. In the US state of South Carolina, officials recovered a crashed drone outside a maximum security prison. The drone was carrying marijuana, tobacco and mobile phones, said officials at the time. In Brazil (Portuguese), a UAV was used to drop about 250g of cocaine onto a local prison near São Paulo, and another was used in an attempt to deliver cell phones. There have also been reports of drones used to scout and rob marijuana-growing operations in the UK, and in 2011 a model hobbyist was arrested in Massachusetts, accused of planning a drone attack on the Pentagon and the Capitol.

“We have to both understand and appreciate the fact that criminals and terrorists are often early adopters of technology, and the latest global trends in robotics have not been lost on them,” wrote Marc Goodman
, the founder of the Future Crimes Institute, for TED’s Ideas blog. ”In other words, sadly, criminals and terrorists can fly drones too.”